Tariffs affect wildfire victims

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Add this to the challenges facing California wildfire victims: Tariffs.

The import tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump are adding thousands of dollars to the cost of building homes. That especially squeezes homeowners who seek to rebuild quickly after losing their houses to natural disasters, such as the wildfires scorching parts of California.

The Trump administration’s tariffs have raised the cost of imported lumber, drywall, nails and other key construction materials. One building association official said the tariffs could raise the price of a typical new home in California by up to $20,000, and it could be more for individual homes being custom-built on short order.

That could be enough to keep some people with inadequate homeowners insurance from rebuilding or force them to consider a smaller house.

“This comes at a bad time if you’ve just had your neighborhood swept up in a firestorm,” said Jock O’Connell, an international trade adviser at Beacon Economics in California.

Wildfires have destroyed thousands of homes in California over the past two years, including 1,200 so far this year.

Trump has imposed the import tariffs on a range of goods as a way to strike back at trading partners he says have not treated the U.S. fairly. His move has set off a trade war, with other nations raising tariffs on U.S. goods in retaliation.

Tariffs now are just over 20 percent on imported Canadian lumber and

25 percent on steel imported from certain nations, as well as on a long list of goods from China.

California Building Industry Association President Dan Dunmoyer said contractors tell him that the tariffs alone could add $8,000 to $10,000 to the lumber costs for a typical single-family home and about the same amount for steel products such as nails, other fasteners and wire mesh.

Asked for comment about the impacts of the tariffs on building materials, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters did not respond directly. In an email, she said, “Instead of retaliating, China should address the longstanding concerns about its unfair trading practices.”

Rising construction costs already are affecting some of Debbie and Rick Serdin’s neighbors in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood.

They said one neighbor is replacing a two-story house with a single-story model because their insurance coverage wasn’t enough to rebuild the home they had. Others are selling their lots, taking their insurance checks and looking to start over somewhere else.

Debbie Serdin, a veterinary technician whose husband works at The Home Depot, said she has been watching construction prices rise for neighbors who have waited to start the rebuilding process.

“Don’t put it off,” she said. “The longer you wait, the more it’s going to cost.”